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It's Darkest Before the Dawn

It Is Darkest Before the DawnAs proverbs go, it's darkest before the dawn rates right up there in my top ten. It's comforting, inspiring, and in my experience, often true.

It's especially encouraging if you've been out looking for a job for a while, have a lousy work environment, or your company isn't doing so hot, that's for sure.

That said, if you don't do the right things to set yourself or your company up for a new dawn, that uplifting proverb will provide nothing more than a false sense of hope. And you know what we say about hope. That's right, hope is a crappy strategy.

If you just stop and think about it, it's common sense that getting out of a bad situation is, to a great extent, a function of your own decisions and actions. But I can't tell you how many people actually think - on some level - that there's really some magical force that will make it come true.

They may not admit it or even be conscious of that, but it's evident in their actions.

While there are external factors beyond your control - like macroeconomics, market forces, and of course luck - if you rely solely on that, then you're no better off than everyone else and, in a competitive market, that's no place to be.

In other words, the new dawn shines on those who position themselves and their companies better than the competition. And, like it or not, that's no slam-dunk. In fact, it can be extremely challenging, especially these days.

Okay, enough with the philosophizing. Here are some examples of people who made the right moves and those who didn't. The results of their actions speak for themselves. And since, sooner or later, there's a good chance you'll find yourself or your company in a similar situation, you'd better pay attention:

  • BNET reader Meghan. Meghan emailed me last year about her dysfunctional boss and workplace. It was a nightmare, but she needed the job. A few emails back and forth and we came up with a survival plan until she could find a better situation. Two weeks ago I heard from Meghan again. One of the company's managers - one she liked and had a good relationship with - found a new opportunity and took Meghan with him. Now she's happy, big-time. The point is, if you want to make a difference in your life, you've got to actually do something different. In this case, that meant reaching out for help.
  • Steve Jobs, Apple. Like the man said, "I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me." Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Jobs picked himself up and founded NeXT, turned Pixar into a huge success, then the true dawn arrived and he got to finish what he started by bringing Apple back from the brink of bankruptcy to become the most valuable company in America. None of that would've or could've happened on its own.
  • Sprint CEO Dan Hesse. About three years ago I said Dan Hesse's efforts at turning around Sprint weren't cutting it. Since then, the company lost $8 billion and, yesterday's news that it's finally getting Apple's iPhone notwithstanding, there doesn't appear to be an end to the red ink in sight. Meanwhile, Hesse continues to waste his time filming commercials and lobbying to torpedo the AT&T - T-Mobile deal.
  • Sony's Howard Stringer. What can I say, Sony's a mess and every time CEO Stringer thinks he can see a light at the end of the tunnel, it turns out to be a big old train coming right at him. I've said it many times over the years and I'll say it again: Sony can't be both a media giant and a consumer electronics kingpin. Its grandiose vision is a flop, and until it brings in a CEO who can really shake things up instead of just stirring the pot, nothing's going to change.
  • Howard Schultz, Starbucks. Got to admit, I sure got this one wrong. At least I wasn't alone. Overextended and facing tough competition from McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts, Schultz did the right thing. He cut stores, got back to basics - the customer experience that built the Starbucks brand - and boosted the top line with new products like Via, much to my surprise. Even during a recession, the company's growing again.
  • Cyrix v. Intel, c. '90s. I used to run marketing for a $300 million semiconductor company. The problem was that our archrival - Intel - came up with the Pentium Processor and it wasn't long before we were nearly bankrupt. I don't recall ever being that down in the dumps. But the board canned the old CEO and we repositioned the company around a new, low-cost PC platform and ultimately sold the company for $600 million. Things didn't go so well after the merger, but that's beside the point.
  • Leo Apotheker, CEO of HP. I predict this one's going to be studied in business schools for years and the course title will be How HP's Board and CEO Leo Apotheker turned the world's largest technology company into a second-rate software firm. No kidding, this company wasn't in need of a turnaround until Apotheker got his hands on it. And if he has his way, the tech giant will soon be a software company ... and number five in the market behind Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and SAP. I'm afraid that HP's in for a long, dark night.
To close on a positive note, one startup CEO I know had his two senior VPs resign on the same day while the company was running out of cash. So he brought in a new management team, raised some more capital, survived the dot-com bust, and took the company public three years later in one of the hottest IPOs of the year.

Now, that's what I call darkest before the dawn. Just remember one thing. It's not what you believe, but what you do - the decisions you make and the actions you take - that makes the proverb come true.

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